Meaningful Photography & Its Positive Impact on Survivors
In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the only thing that flipped Michaela Raes’ world upside down. Her breast cancer diagnosis came around the same time, disrupting her treatment options. In the midst of the scariest things happening at once, Raes found a way to see the strength that would guide her throughout her cancer journey. Before undergoing any surgeries, she hired her close friend Jolana Hollister, a Rochester-based photographer, to do her very first boudoir photoshoot.
Raes shares that her confidence was never the best, and the cancer diagnosis only exacerbated her fear for her body: Will I feel alright with myself? Will I look bald? What will losing hair feel like? Now, Raes can say that these overwhelming fears were unnecessary. You’re still the same person when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You may look and feel different, but you’re still the same wonderful person, and Raes’s boudoir sessions helped her realize this.
A Shared Experience
Raes’ first boudoir session with Hollister occurred prior to her first surgery, a lumpectomy. After she was photographed post-surgery, she decided to do another shoot after chemo, then after her double mastectomy, and again after her reconstructive surgery. By shooting after each surgery, Raes and Hollister were showing the experience of having cancer in one body.
As Raes felt strengthened and more confident through the boudoir sessions, she thought that other women with breast cancer could benefit from the same experience. Raes decided that if she could help at least one other woman through this, then she could move forward. But Raes hasn’t just help one woman in the past two years; to date, she has helped over ten women gain the confidence they need throughout their respective journeys with breast cancer. This number continues to rise as more boudoir sessions are offered through the Breast Cancer Confidence Project.
A Fulfilling Charitable Organization
The Breast Cancer Confidence Project (BCCP) was launched by Raes and Hollister when they joined forces and decided to offer boudoir sessions to women with breast cancer in the Rochester area. The official name for the charitable organization was coined at the end of 2020, and over the past year and a half, Raes and Hollister have organized three events. BCCP is a charitable organization working on its nonprofit application, and it holds no profits from its efforts. Any revenue that has been generated was donated to breast cancer organizations that already have a nonprofit designation.
Women who attend these events are encouraged to share their experiences, talk about their fears, have fun with one another, and gain confidence in their bodies with the help of a beautifully crafted photo session, which includes a complimentary makeover! Comfort is the most important element when it comes to these boudoir sessions, so women are encouraged to wear clothing and undergarments they feel their best in.
A Changed Experience
Hollister dipped her toes into boudoir photography shortly before Raes reached out about her first session; in fact, Raes was Hollister’s first paid boudoir customer! While Raes enjoyed photographing weddings and families, capturing the bodies of cancer survivors has had an indescribable impact.
Raes shares that Hollister does an incredible job of showing breast cancer survivors how beautiful their bodies are, and she does a reveal for each woman after the session to go through the photos, highlight strengths, and show the women just how powerful their bodies are. Through this deeply personal way of demonstrating both beauty and strength, survivors are able to see themselves in a different light. Women are very used to judging themselves and picking apart their bodies and finding flaws, but these boudoir sessions provide a different perspective that a cancer patient simply won’t be exposed to in a medical setting.
The boudoir sessions are a shared experience among breast cancer survivors. Women who attend the sessions can connect with one another, know that they’re not alone, and learn how to accept their ever-changing bodies. However, it’s not just a shared experience - it’s also about a changed perspective. You can talk about your shared experiences, but at the end of the day, every woman’s journey is different - and that’s okay. By talking about their struggles and accepting their changing bodies, survivors can feel less alone and instead garner the power, confidence, and beauty that they left behind when they were first diagnosed.
Hollister shares that the focus is on capturing emotion and authentic feelings and making it more than a session of posing and smiling. It’s an entire experience, and Michaela Raes and Jolana Hollister want women who come to relax, put themselves first, and enjoy it to the fullest!
BCCP In Action
While Hollister runs the photography side of their charitable organization, Raes organizes their social media pages and does the bulk of the event planning. The sessions are hosted in Hollister’s studio in Rochester, and their fourth session will take place on October 30th, 2022. This event will be the biggest one they’ve ever offered, as they’re providing a variety of options for women with different comfort levels and for those who want to be more conservative with their bodies. This event will offer boudoir, headshots, and henna body art.
The organization’s plans for the future include social ventures for previous participants to reconnect, such as a dinner, a movie night, or a hiking trip, and to continue providing fundraisers for the organization and other breast cancer organizations in Rochester and the surrounding communities. They also plan to expand their body positivity events to a broader geographical area. With a board of directors, the BCCP is now a recognized charitable organization in the Rochester community that is helping breast cancer survivors find their confidence and strength, one photograph at a time.